We know that just like our long-term plan for our T-Mobile business, we need a long-term plan for our people. Common, intentional talent management practices create consistent employee expectations and experiences based on our T-Mobile Values. This helps us unlock high-performance and employee engagement. At T-Mobile and as part of our Equity In Action efforts, focused on Talent, Culture, Brand and Digital Equity, we take our talent seriously, and that includes getting to know our people, their strengths and opportunities, and supporting their career goals so that they can drive our business.
This case study represents one of the submissions for i4cp's 2023 Next Practice Awards, winners will be honored at the i4cp 2023 Next Practices Now Conference. You can also view other Next Practice Award case studies.
Having merged with Sprint in 2020, T-Mobile needed a new approach to understanding and developing our talent. We did not want to use legacy talent review processes that leveraged 9-boxes or stack-ranking by potential, but identified the need to look at our talent differently, to ensure we were focused on the right outcomes – strong leaders, diverse talent, amplifying strengths, and preparing employees for the future of our business.
We also wanted to support transparency and encourage cross-functional opportunities for our employees to drive a more diverse breadth of experience, holistic approach to the business, as well as a strong focus on understanding and developing our people. Because there was a lack of consistent utilization of Talent Reviews in the organization, we knew we needed to lean into a consistent and objective approach as well as a common language for the entire organization, no matter the business function, and that we had to drive utilization of our HRIS system so that talent review data could be accessible to leaders and used to make data-driven decisions across the organization.
Solution – Scope & Innovation
To meet our future business needs, we needed to take a new approach to talent reviews – different than either of our legacy processes. We studied best practice research and also listened to the needs articulated by our senior leaders. We then identified the three most important variables for identifying our talent and what they needed to succeed in their careers AND help define our company culture and drive success = Results (the ‘what’ of performance), Leadership (the ‘how’ of performance and a key attribute identified as a strong opportunity at T-Mobile), and Potential (the readiness of the individual to take on something new or bigger). In defining this trifecta of attributes for each employee, we will have a deeper understanding of where we have gaps as an organization and ensure we are holding individuals to similarly defined performance standards that are objective, consistent and people-centric.
Additionally, diversity and inclusion are a huge part of T-Mobile’s DNA, so we wanted each employee to have a voice at the table – we didn’t want talent reviews to be ‘done to’ them, but to engage them as part of the process. We leveraged our HRIS to have them document their experience, strengths, career interests and a personal elevator pitch. This, combined with the leaders’ talent assessment data, provided a full picture of each individual as they were discussed in the talent review meetings in the form of a ‘Talent Card.’
We also wanted to place focus on the outcome of the talent reviews, vs. just on the process itself. Instead of talent reviews being a confidential process culminating in laddering and in high-potential identification alone, we knew that to drive the most value out of the process and to position our employees for the future, we needed to understand and focus on the diversity of our organization and development of ALL. We held Talent Review meetings with our leaders to look at the overall diversity of the employees and their skills/experiences and determine overall talent strengths and gaps. We then studied the three main attributes that were assessed in talent review (results, leadership, potential) and developed 5 personas that enabled us to quickly understand the type of development support each group needed – employees are not just a number based on a 9-box, but a person whose development, if done intentionally, can prepare them for what’s next. We also utilized the personas to create a menu of aligned development options (e.g. leadership development programs, business acumen courses, 360 assessments, sponsorship, mentoring, etc.) that our leaders could leverage as they worked with each employee post talent review to provide meaningful feedback and create a development plan that reflects their individual potential and helps them grow.
Finally, we ensured that we updated our technology solution to accommodate our new talent review approach and to drive leaders to a common place to store the data. With over 70,000 employees, we couldn’t continue to use different systems or collect data offline on disconnected or misaligned spreadsheets. Our technology solution provided transparency and consistency for leaders and employees to take advantage of online tools where everything could be housed in one system and leveraged for data-driven decision-making.
We knew we would face many hurdles – leaders who had their own established processes for their organizations, technology that was not very flexible and difficult to configure for an approach that was not the standard 9-box, employees who were not used to being involved in the talent review process, and a culture that was still being formed post-merger. Additionally, because there was still much re-organization and integration to do, there was not a lot of leader mind-share – we knew any solution we proposed had to be easy and highly effective for it to get any traction.
So, we decided to start the change management with our highest-level leaders as well as our HR organization – if the new talent review approach was easy enough for our HR leaders to facilitate and our SLT to participate in AND they got value from the process as well as the talent discussions, we knew that they would help drive it throughout the organization. Additionally, we had to ensure that our support tools and training including a dedicated leaders’ site, video shorts, grab-and-go templates, HR-specific documents, etc. were robust and easy to find and use.
Results & Impact
While our new Talent Review approach is still young, we have had several successes thus far, and will continue to study the data and survey the participants to understand the ongoing value and impact. To date:
- 100% of all Senior Vice Presidents have been assessed and calibrated by the Senior Leadership Team and our SLT has held 4 talent review meetings since we introduced this new approach
- 89% of all Executive employees (Directors and above) have been assessed and calibrated by their leaders
- Expanded calibrations to include Senior Manager employees in 2022 with 68% completed as of 9/30/2022
- The majority of our Sr. Managers and above have completed their own personal talent profile for use in our Talent Reviews
- Overall development path distribution has a bell curve and is similar across the various levels assessed
- Removing the 9-box framework has shifted the Talent Review discussions from calibrating on ratings to a focus on whether we have the right development approach identified for each of our employees or groups of employees
As a comprehensive, high-value program, T-Mobile Talent Reviews have set a new bar for talent identification and career development at T-Mobile. It has a holistic approach that values all employees and invites them into the process – creating inclusion and transparency. The goal is employee development that will support our future business focus and individual career aspirations.
T-Mobile leaders see the value in Talent Reviews and are continuing to partner with our Human Resources team to complete Talent Reviews through the end of the year and into early next year. We will continue to expand talent assessments and calibrations lower into our organization, with some organizations including all individual contributors in their Talent Review assessments. As we think and talk about our talent, we will use our Talent Review data to help ensure we are supporting our employees craft a development plan that is unique to them that continues to drive our success.
We won’t stop with just assessing our talent, we will be planful and leverage our talent assessment data on an ongoing basis to help foster and drive individual career mobility, personalized development, a diverse talent pipeline, as well as business continuity and minimization of loss impact.